Hack happens

I always thought that it wouldn't happen to me, but then I also know that sometimes shit just happens... so I wasn't completely shocked when I tried to log into my WoW account yesterday morning just to be greeted by a message that I'd been banned, with an accompanying e-mail about my account being involved in gold-selling activities in my inbox.

There had actually been warning signs: On Tuesday evening I found that my account had suddenly been locked by Blizzard, supposedly due to "suspicious activity". Since this happened just after I had repeatedly failed to log in successfully due to the login servers being down, I thought that it was a probably just a glitch in the system, went through the automated process of account recovery and was back on my merry way very quickly. There were no signs of anyone else having accessed my account, and Real ID confirmed this by stating that I hadn't been online since I last logged off.

I guess I should have known when my boyfriend noted in confusion that his friends list suddenly showed two different Real ID entries for me late the other night. Oh well, hindsight is always perfect.

So I found my account frozen on Friday morning just before I had to go to work and obviously I wasn't happy. I couldn't shake this vague feeling that someone had violated my private space. On the whole however, I was quite calm, and that was actually a pleasant surprise. I mean, I had found myself wondering recently whether I wasn't playing a bit too much WoW, relying on it too much to keep me entertained - but I think the way this incident hardly fazed me is pretty good proof that it's actually not that bad. There's no better way of putting things into perspective than having to go "well, I've got to go to work now so I'll have to deal with this later".

When I came back home in the evening my boyfriend had already turned on my computer and run a full virus scan, which did indeed turn up a trojan (which was promptly removed of course). I still don't know where I picked it up as I pretty much only ever visit the same couple of websites every day, but my best guess is that I somehow got it via the Curse Client. Now, before anyone jumps on me to defend Curse, I'm not condemning them, after all it's only a guess. But rumours about it being a security risk in some way have been pretty persistent from what I can see, and while it might have been a coincidence that all this happened shortly after I installed it, it also might not. I got rid of it either way.

I then decided to call up Blizzard's German customer service - since I'm bilingual I figured that I had a choice and I was hoping that the German customer service representatives might be slightly less overworked. I got through quite quickly and I timed the call - it took less than five minutes to explain my situation and get my account restored. Kudos to customer service rep Matthias for his swift help.

I immediately changed my password and went to survey the damage. Two of my low-level alts had been deleted and replaced with level one alts for gold-spamming. Kind of funny that, why do they shy away from doing it on existing characters? Trying to make a point that while they may be evil, they are not that evil? All my characters had been robbed blind in terms of money, but otherwise the hacker seemed to have been in quite a hurry, as he didn't touch any of my characters' gear, items or guild banks. I hadn't even completed logging onto all of my alts by the time I started receiving in-game mails from support that were returning the stolen money. The GM didn't bother doing this on all of my characters, so I still ended up a few thousand gold short of what I had before, but I'm not too bothered about that. My two deleted alts were back as well.

What is the lesson here? That nobody is completely safe? I already knew that. That someone hijacking your account feels intrusive? Hardly a surprise. That sometimes Blizzard customer support can actually be really good? Yeah, that one was new to me, but I did think it deserved a mention. I was back to playing on the same day of the incident and didn't lose anything but a little bit of potential play time and a bit of in-game gold.


Early raid healing impressions

My guild has killed the Baradin Hold boss a couple of times now, killed Halfus and Magmaw once and has had attempts on the Omitron Defense System as well as Valiona and Theralion. So far my impressions of healing those encounters can be summed up as: when Blizzard's new healing system works as intended, it's fun. It doesn't work everywhere and maybe not even for all classes, but when it does I'm really enjoying it.

Last night we had our first Magmaw kill and afterwards I joined a Baradin Hold pug on my druid. Magmaw felt challenging to heal because OMGWTFAOE and Argaloth was made challenging by the fact that my druid's gear level is still fairly low. (I think her average ilevel is 320 or something, and she still wears a helm from ICC - I always imagine that people silently curse their luck for getting stuck with such a seemingly terribly geared healer when they inspect me.) On both encounters mana management was a big issue for me, yet I also had a lot of fun, and I've been thinking about why that is. I believe that there are mainly two reasons:

Firstly, having to manage my mana is a problem that I can approach both analytically and through experimentation. To think back to WOTLK raids for a moment, once mana ceased to be an issue, there were basically three things that could lead to a wipe from my point of view:

1. Not the healers' fault at all, a tank or dps messed up somehow and blew everyone up. Obviously that's slightly annoying, but since you want them to be patient with you when you make mistakes as well, you just grin and bear it.

2. A pretty obvious healer error, such as someone with a debuff not receiving heals even though they should have. This is relatively easy to fix because you know what to watch out for next time.

3. NEED MOAR HEALS! Those were the encounters were either the tank or the raid were taking such massive damage that even though you were already spamming all your fastest and strongest heals non-stop, people were still dying. I always found this kind of situation very frustrating because it felt like I wasn't really in control. Even though I was doing the best I could, it was somehow not enough yet, maybe because of gear, maybe because of simple RNG. Either way there was little I could do about it other than try again and pray that the tank would dodge at the right moment and I would get a crit when I needed it most.

The challenge of having to manage your mana couldn't be more different from that. I pretty much always run out of mana early when I first encounter a new boss for the first time (because I'm a bit panicky and want to keep people topped up just in case), but from then on it quickly becomes a game of trying out different spell selections: dropping a lightwell, switching Chakra states at different points, trying to let the HoT from my mastery tick a bit and so on and so forth, and with each attempt the progress I make is very visible as I last longer and people still stay alive.

In WOTLK the challenge was always more and more damage, and since I was already using my most powerful spells all the time there was no real difference in what I did until I hit a wall which I couldn't overcome, in which case I could do little to improve my performance. In Cataclysm the intended challenge is to balance my mana bar with the needs of the raid, and I always have the option to try tipping the scales one way or the other. So far this has worked well.

The other reason I like the new system is that it gives healers another way to measure their performance and feel better about themselves. Tam recently tried out paladin dps and mentioned how he liked that as dps he felt that he could always do better, whereas as a healer there is only so much healing to do and that's it: "I mean, yes, you need to measure your individual performance and all that but ultimately even if you cast nothing but greater heal and the group survives then you’ve done your job. I mean, you’ve done it really fucking badly but the point is you’ve still done it, and the only person likely to complain is a fellow healer who sees the butchery you’ve perpetrated."

That is certainly still true and I suppose healing more efficiently is still nothing more than a private little game, but at least it's a game I can measure. Healing done or healing per second are numbers that have their use, but they are very limited by how much damage is actually being taken and what your role is supposed to be, so it can be hard to feel like you've done well even if you've topped the healing metres. When mana matters again however, I can also look at overhealing numbers and feel that I've performed well if I healed a lot but still only had nine percent overheal or whatever. Once again the game encourages a balancing act instead of just trying to push as hard and fast as possible, and I find the act of trying to find that balance very fun.

If I had anything negative to say about healing the new raids it's that heavy AoE damage still seems to be running rampant, or at least it was on both Halfus and Magmaw. What this means is that while healing has become more tactical again, it hasn't necessarily become less frantic, and people can still die quite quickly if you don't hurry to top them off again as soon as you can. The only saving grace so far has been that in no encounter the massive damage seems to last forever, and if you can make it through the worst of it you'll eventually have a period of respite where you can heal people up slowly again.


Pugging for science!

The other night I decided to finally pug my first heroic on my own, because after all, what would this blog be without bad pug stories? And how can I talk about enjoying pugging if I'm too afraid to go out there and do it myself these days?

I decided to do the illogical thing and not conduct this experiment with my priest, even though the fact that she's my main and almost fully geared from heroics by now probably would have increased my chances of success. Instead I decided to queue up with my druid, thinking to myself that if I failed too badly I could at least blame it on the character not being my main and not being very well geared. I guess there is a warped kind of logic there.

After about five minutes of waiting in the healer queue I was pulled into a heroic Deadmines in progress, just after the Foe Reaper 5000. The tank was in the process of explaining to some damage dealer that he was supposed to avoid something or other, to which the dpser replied with "it's just a game gtfo" and left the group. The tank thought that this was hilarious, and I have to admit that I was vaguely amused as well. An interesting moment to join in, but the fact that the person that didn't care about tactics was the one who was leaving gave me hope.

We made our way to the boat in a very messy manner, with several deaths on the way. Either a lot of those trash mobs have random aggro mechanics or our tank just wasn't very good. Or maybe he was just lacking focus... he randomly went AFK more than once, supposedly because his girlfriend was distracting him.

Ripsnarl gave us problems, and after a couple of wipes I made sure to double-check all the fight mechanics online to make sure that I wasn't doing anything wrong, since we had had one or two wipes due to me running out of mana after the boss had been beating on the tank for ages with full stacks of Thirst for Blood. More often than not we got blown up by adds though. The tank also yelled at the shadow priest for supposedly not dispelling some disease and ignored my comments about there not being a disease mechanic on this fight. I decided that it wasn't my fault and that all three damage dealers barely doing 5k dps was probably just a little too low. Just as I was pondering how to best bring this up, two of them decided to leave without a word and we got a death knight and a hunter as replacements.

The hunter alone did 10k dps, which immediately improved things significantly and we only ended up wiping at 1% after I had been buried under a pile of untanked adds and died. The hunter left again. Why? We were so close! Fortunately the next hunter we got as replacement did just as much damage and we eventually got the Admiral down.

Cookie was not a problem fortunately, but Vanessa ended up being somewhat tricky again. We actually wiped on Glubtok's nightmare because people randomly died in fires before we even had a chance to do anything to him. On the mechanical nightmare there were a couple of expected deaths to the lightning rods. I waited in a safe spot for everyone else to catch up and when I healed the last arrival, the death knight, to full, I suddenly had aggro from the boss - I guess he had pulled unintentionally? I died and so did almost everyone else but they managed to burn the boss down at the same time.

On Vanessa we stalled again, much to my surprise because I remembered that part as a fairly easy tank and spank from my last visit. For some reason the tank ran straight into the part of the ship that was a fiery inferno and died. I asked him why he did that and he said: "Stupidity. Sorry." What are you supposed to say to that? On the next attempt he fell off the boat and the boss reset. Hunter #2 left as well. Once again I could only wonder, why? We had beaten Ripsnarl and Cookie and were this close to completing the instance, why drop now of all times?

His replacement was a warlock and the tank asked to be summoned back because he thought that there was no way to get back onto the boat from the water. Rrright. Once he had found his way after all and we were trying to buff up and get ready to kill her for real this time, the death knight's ghoul decided to pull the boss for us while everyone was on half health and mana and we eventually wiped again. It's a good thing that I have a much higher tolerance for incompetence than for malice.

Being a very bad pug scientist, I forgot to actually count the number of times that I died, but considering that my gear had gone from fully repaired to yellow by the time we killed Vanessa and that my guild has the Reinforce (rank two) guild perk, I must have racked up eleven or twelve deaths. I was rewarded for this with 210 justice points, my druid's first 70 valor points, no useful loot and a Chaos Orb that I can't use yet but which defaulted to me anyway since nobody else in the group had any of the right crafting professions. I'm not sure it was worth it.

Still, I think the experience showed that it's quite possible to pug Cataclysm heroics if you're sufficiently patient and persistent. I mean, I wonder how many of the dpsers that left the group after a wipe then went on to complain to someone about how much we all sucked and how pugging heroics is clearly impossible.


Simple thoughts on heroics

Cataclysm has only been out for a little over a month. By now I've run all the new heroics at least once, but still less than five times. With that said, I want to put down what I guess could still be considered early impressions of them.

My overall verdict is: I like them. Their length feels good, and unless you're playing badly and wiping a lot, they don't take much longer than WOTLK heroics did early in the expansion.

I like the trash. Even though a lot of it has been trivialised way too quickly, there are still some interesting pulls in there. My favourite are probably the gilblins in Throne of the Tides. I still remember the first time we did that instance on heroic and our pugged tank tricked my boyfriend's warlock into pulling with a fear. My dear man was rather annoyed by getting one-shot by all the spears aimed at him but I have to admit that I was amused more than anything. I like the way these pulls encourage thinking out of the box and pulling in unusual ways: with a mind control from the healer, a mage ice block or by sending a pet in.

More importantly, there are generally what I consider "healthy" amounts of trash as well. A couple of packs between bosses to give you some room to refocus but not enough to turn it into a tedious slog. There are some exceptions of course: For example Anraphet's room in Halls of Origination bores me a bit to be honest, as does the amount of trash just before Ozruk in the Stonecore (though the latter is at least dangerous and you've got be careful with pulling). On the other hand the final four bosses of Halls of Origination and the last three of heroic Deadmines feel a bit too "piled up" too me, with little to nothing in-between to let you relax a bit.

The bosses themselves are without a doubt the best thing about Cataclysm heroics, because Blizzard clearly tried very hard to make all of them interesting in some way. As nostalgic as I am for Burning Crusade sometimes, I'm under no delusion that all the level seventy heroic bosses were interesting. There was a lot of tank and spank even back then. In Cataclysm heroics however I'd struggle to name any bosses that feel completely boring right now, maybe with the exception of Grand Vizier Ertan and Asaad in Vortex Pinnacle, and they are both about to receive buffs in the next patch.

Personally I also find the difficulty of most bosses to be quite well-tuned, and I think that a lot of the panic about heroics being too hard is simply the result of ignorance and lack of co-ordination, or in other words, we're still so early in the expansion that you're likely to have at least one group member who has no clue what to do and might blow everyone up. I'm pretty sure that if the dungeon finder had been around at the start of WOTLK, people would have whined about those heroics being too hard as well, and we all know that that didn't last long at all. So I believe that this is something that will sort itself out over time. There is only one boss that I'd consider somewhat overtuned right now, and that's Ozruk in heroic Stonecore. I've only tanked him on normal myself, but even in there and with a run-speed enchant on my boots I found that a half-second of delay was already enough to make it impossible to avoid his Shatter properly, which will generally one-shot you on heroic in current gear levels. I think this could be fixed quite easily though by simply increasing the cast time a little to give the tank and melee a bit more leeway with running out.

If I had to say anything negative about Cataclysm heroics, it would probably be that none of them have really impressed me visually. They are far from ugly, but unlike in BC and WOTLK I never had any "wow, this looks cool" moments in there as it stands. Even Vortex Pinnacle, which some have praised for its looks, just left me with the impression of a place that was very white and very empty.

With all that said, I would like to note that I'm not running a heroic every day, which some people have cited as a problem with the current system, because apparently anything that you wouldn't want to do every single day is bad. Maybe I'm an oddity, but I didn't do the daily heroic every day back in WOTLK either. Occasionally I'd go on binges and run a daily on all of my alts in one evening, but more often than not I simply couldn't be bothered because it was simply kind of boring, especially towards the end of the expansion. Nowadays lack of time keeps me away instead of a lack of interest, but at least when I do get to join a run it's somewhat engaging.

Right now the gear that drops from the heroic bosses themselves and the things that you can buy with justice points are all you really need to gear up for raiding, and neither of those are dependent on running heroics on a schedule. Valor point epics are only a nice bonus anyway, so I see no reason to fret about them.


Trials and tribulations of a recovering paladin tank

My paladin tank was my "main alt" throughout most of WOTLK, but after 4.0 I pretty much stopped playing her. I think it was mostly because all the classes received such drastic overhauls that I was busy enough relearning how to play my main (and then my druid healer when I found holy priests to be too broken for my taste) that I didn't feel like spending time on relearning how to paladin as well. I vaguely remember running one heroic as a tank right after the patch and that I found it silly how I topped the damage meters just by spamming Hammer of the Righteous and hitting Avenger's Shield whenever it lit up from a Grand Crusader proc. Then I ran one as a healer and felt slightly overwhelmed by how many more buttons and procs I had to keep track of all of a sudden. That was probably the moment when I decided for sure that I would put the paladin on the shelf until I had time to learn the new mechanics properly.

While levelling my priest and druid to 85 as healers, I ran into a lot of paladin tanks that used their abilities in strange ways as far as I could tell:
- Why is this guy using Divine Protection on a simple trash pull? What a waste of a cooldown.
- Why does this guy keep trying to get aggro with Holy Wrath? None of the mobs in this pull are demons or undead!
- How pointless to spam Hammer of the Righteous on such a large trash pack, it doesn't hit more than four mobs anyway.

In hindsight I'm glad that I never said these things out loud, because now that I'm the paladin tank, I'm constantly realising what a noob I've been to not notice all the changes to various tooltips earlier.
- Divine Protection only has a one-minute cooldown now? Why am I not using it all the time?
- Holy Wrath does damage to all types of mobs now? Holy crap!
- Hammer of the Righteous hits an unlimited amount of targets now, having been turned into a flat AoE? Talk about overpowered!
Good thing that I'm able to laugh at my own failure to notice this earlier. Plus it's fun to discover abilities that I didn't even know I had.

In general pugging normal instances as a tank has felt more weird than fun though. I think the problem is that many players still have the same mentality that they developed throughout facerolling WOTLK heroics, and since Cataclysm instances on normal mode facilitate an eerily similar gameplay I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's still kind of awkward though, because on some bosses people not knowing the tactics can wipe you even on normal, and since the content is still relatively new it's not unreasonable for someone to not know what to do.

I've always viewed the tanking role as that of a guide. I set the pace, manage the pulls somewhat and generally try to help people out, but I'm not anyone's superior. Instances are a team exercise and everyone's contribution matters. In late WOTLK that wasn't really true anymore, but at least we were all on the same page about what was and wasn't important, more or less. Right now however it feels to me as if priorities and attitudes are all over the place.

On the one hand we have people, mostly dps players, who don't want to think or talk to anyone and just want to be led by the hand for the entirety of the instance. I appreciate that they follow my guidance to a certain extent, but sometimes I feel like a manager trying to coax productivity out of lazy employees as absolutely nothing gets done without me directly telling them to do so. If I don't tell them what to crowd control and when, they won't bother. If they don't know the fight, they won't say so unless I explicitly ask them - until we wipe because they blew us up somehow. To these guys I really just want to say: come on now, I'm not your boss and you're not at work. Get involved, show some initiative! Don't you enjoy playing this game?

On the other hand of the spectrum we have players who have a very clear idea of what they want to happen, when and how, and they might even say so, but otherwise they show little to no consideration for the rest of the party. Or in other words, where the previous group thinks that I, the tank, am their boss, this one thinks that I'm their bitch. They'll yell if I don't do things the way they want, tell me to gogogo and even pull without me. I had a priest healer in Vortex Pinnacle yesterday who started a trash pull with a mind control while me and half the party were still on another platform. I just didn't know what to say. I appreciate your initiative and mind control is really cool, but you're not the only person in this run!

Finally, take these two diametrically opposed attitudes and throw them into the same instance. From a tanking perspective this means that while I try to explain that boss to the phlegmatic rogue, the bossy mage decides that I'm too slow and pulls for me. There's just no way I can win. And yes, this kind of thing existed in WOTLK as well, but I never found it as bad because it was much, much rarer to run into someone genuinely new to the content in max-level randoms, so at least everyone was already at the level where they considered me their bitch instead. Wait, did I just describe that as a good thing? And people wonder why many tanks are such strange individuals...


Changes to mob tagging

I don't know if this was mentioned in any recent patch notes, but if it was then I missed it, and if I managed to miss it then someone else might have missed it as well and could actually learn something from this post. Basically, Blizzard seems to have changed the way mob tagging and kill credit works - not everywhere, but at least for certain quest mobs.

I first noticed this when I was doing the daily quest Glop, Son of Glop for Therazane. If you've never done it, it requires you to talk to an NPC to activate a hostile elite whom you then have to chase all around a cave as he keeps running away from you. For a single kill this is a relatively lengthy affair, and I thought it was pretty stupid that Blizzard chose to make something like that into a daily of all things. If you entered the cave after someone else had just started the event you'd have to wait for a while, and if you then talked to the NPC after she respawned, someone else could still interfere and ninja-tag the actual quest mob. After a couple of days of doing this daily however, I noticed that some people seemed to like running along and fighting the elite with me even if they hadn't got the tag, and afterwards they exited the cave at the same time as me, apparently having completed the quest as well.

I went to investigate the matter on Wowhead and the comments there did indeed state that you didn't have to get the first hit in, as long as you just tagged along and helped to damage Glop, you should get kill credit as well. I tried this out for myself, and not counting a few times when the quest bugged out completely, it eventually worked.

Only a few days later I then heard a guildie mention that you didn't have to be the one to tag Problim in Tol Barad to get kill credit for the daily quest either. Curious, I went to find Problim myself and waited for someone else to attack him. It didn't take long for a random shadow priest to come along and engage him. As soon as he had dotted the mob up, I joined the fight - and incidentally saved his life, as he took a pretty bad beating and would have died without assistance. He thanked me afterwards, but the fact that my helping had indeed counted towards completing my quest was thanks enough really.

Since then I have spotted a note in the 4.0.6 PTR patch notes that says:

Kill credit for the Tol Barad bonus quest bosses will now be granted to players who have helped attack them, even if they are not in the same group. These bosses include Problim, Archmage Galus, Warden Silva, and Svarnos.

In the case of Problim this is obviously already live, but if the other quest bosses are still to come I'll welcome that as well, considering how awfully crowded it can get in the prison blocks just after a Tol Barad victory, with a dozen or more people spamming their AoEs in an attempt to tag the quest mobs for themselves immediately upon respawning.

I wonder if it is feasible to go even further and maybe apply this system to all quests that require you to kill a named mob. I really like it because it basically removes the "UI barrier" for grouping up. If we kill a mob together, we worked as a group whether the UI says that we're a party or not, and I like the idea of rewarding people accordingly. On the other hand there is some potential for abuse, depending on just how small the contribution has to be to get credit, as people could just follow someone else around and then throw a single dot on whatever the other person is fighting just to share the credit for it. I do think the benefits outweigh the potential risks in this case though.

Of course you then have to wonder whether this couldn't apply to other, more generic types of quests as well? Though I suppose as soon as you started to share loot things would get hairy...


Fun with Google Analytics

This is going to be one of those boring posts about blogging itself, so if that's not your kind of thing, feel free to skip. (Also, apologies to anyone who might have seen this appear and then disappear again - I noticed a big factual error upon posting that made me unpublish again until I had straightened it out.)

I installed Google Analytics on this blog about a year ago, because I wanted to know just how many people were reading me and where they were coming from. This is the one feature I envy Wordpress users for: the fact that when someone links to them it gets displayed in a comment to the post in question, so everyone can see it right away and the link love can be shared. If you get a sudden influx of traffic as a Blogger user, you can only go "bwuh?"

Anyway, Google revealed that I got between fifty and a hundred hits per day for most of the year, going up very slightly right after I got linked in places but overall staying around that level. I'm quite happy with that, as I don't think I could deal with a larger audience to be honest. Even the few times when I got more than ten comments to some of my posts often made me feel awkward more than anything. Blogging may be a public endeavour but there is still a certain illusion that you're only talking to a limited audience and it's awkward when that gets broken. It's like performing in a small theatre and then finding out that there was a tv crew in the audience that broadcast the whole thing nationwide. Oops.

Or to use another example, it's like inviting some friends over for a fun evening, except that they then also ask some of their mates to come along, who then ask more of their own in turn - and you end up with a house full of people you don't even know, wondering what the hell just happened. If you're unlucky there might even be some unsavoury subjects in the crowd - though I've been really lucky in that regard, fortunately. Even though I allow anonymous commenting and don't even have Captcha-ing turned on I think I've had to delete less than ten comments during my entire blogging career.

Anyway, I did get a couple of traffic spikes from links and thought them somewhat amusing to be honest, mostly because the biggest spikes didn't necessarily come from the sites from which I'd expected it. Let's observe the following graph (click to embiggen):

Point A marks my first tiny traffic spike back in February (288 hits), when Alison Robert included a link to a post of mine about druid vs. paladin tanking in one of her Shifting Perspectives articles. While I got quite excited about this, I was also surprised that it wasn't worse, considering the comments I'd seen from other people who got linked on WoW Insider. Then again, the link was only part of a side note, as opposed to being featured in a major "look at this" way.

After that things were quiet for a long time, until LarĂ­sa linked to my post about saying goodbye to tree form (point B, 704 hits). WoW, the Pink Pigtail Inn sure has a lot of readers that are willing to click links!

Point C came completely out of the blue to me, as I hadn't noticed any links on any of the blogs I usually read, so where the hell did those 1,386 hits come from all of a sudden? This is where Google Analytics was really helpful, because it led me to a site called reddit (which I hadn't heard of before I have to admit) where a kind reader had shared a link to the post about my WoW-flavoured job interview.

Point D surprised me with a massive 2,500 hits after my first impressions of the Shattering were featured on WoW Insider's Daily Quest column. Ah, so that's what it's like to be "properly WoW Insidered"!

At that point I thought that it couldn't possibly get any crazier... until Point E (4,019 hits) was created three days ago after Tam linked me in one of his posts. Forget WoW Insider, clearly Righteous Orbs is where the publicity is at! Except that upon closer inspection I realised that I had actually been linked by WoW Insider again on the same day and only a couple of hits actually came via RO. I bet Tam must be relieved that he hasn't outgrown WoW Insider yet.


Do I see mounted combat in our future?

I'm not usually someone that's hugely interested in speculation as I tend to be more focused on the here and now, even more so in the case of WoW in its current state - there are still way, way too many things to do before I could even think about getting bored with it.

However, there is one Cataclysm dungeon boss that caused my thoughts to go down an unusual path the other day: Earthrager Ptah in Halls of Origination. He's a pretty simple boss, tank and spank with some stuff that you're not supposed to stand in as well as a brief add phase, but the interesting thing about him is something else: on the terrace just below the boss, a couple of camels are lumbering around and waiting for you to mount them. You can then do the entire boss fight on the back of a camel. It's not a vehicle in the usual sense, as you still use your own abilities as normal, but it does give you the benefit of slightly faster run speed, and more importantly for ranged classes, the ability to cast spells on the run (since it's not you that's running, it's the camel). If you can do this on heroic without allowing Ptah to knock you off your camel, you get a little achievement.

Now, there's no real reason to put too much thought into that; you can just look at it as a silly little vehicle gimmick fight, but I thought it was interesting that this was the closest thing to true mounted combat that I can remember ever encountering in WoW. I vaguely recall that certain bombing quests in BC and vehicle fights in WOTLK were advertised as a sort of mounted combat initially, but in the end neither were really about using your character's own abilities while mounted so that felt a bit like false advertising.

Being able to fight while mounted is just one of those things... I've never heard people clamour for it en masse (unlike for player housing for example) but I think most would agree that the idea of being able to fight while mounted in general is pretty cool. Just imagine a paladin actually charging into battle on her charger, or a hunter pelting enemies with arrows while swiftly darting in and out of range on her mount. And that's not even taking into account flying mounts...

From a game balancing point of view it would be a veritable nightmare of course. In PvE, players would get up to all kinds of new kiting hijinks with the ability to fight while running at mount speed. In PvP, casters would suddenly be insane, being able to cast their most powerful spells while on the run on their mount. There would have to be abilities that guarantee to knock you off to counter this and melee would probably need to be buffed in general.

You could also ask: should druids be allowed to fight while mounted? At the moment the camel vehicles can be ridden while shapeshifted (click on the achievement link above to see a silly screenshot of a bear doing so), but while it's balanced and certainly acceptable for that one fight, on the whole the idea of a bear riding a camel is pretty ridiculous. Hell, seeing rockets strapped to bear butts in ICC looked less weird.

Lots and lots of issues to consider... but it would be cool, and since the developers have been emphasising the importance of the coolness factor a lot lately, I can't help but wonder whether they aren't considering mounted combat as new feature for a future expansion too. This little camel fight might just be a test drive, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a full-fledged raid encounter using similar mechanics before the end of this expansion. And then, who knows?


State of the dungeon finder

I still haven't dared to brave the dungeon finder for a random heroic on my own, but I'm slowly trying to wean myself from only running with guild groups. To be honest I kind of have to - unsurprisingly, the tanks have finished their heroic gearing before anyone else, and I'm pretty sure that even some of the tanking alts have overtaken me on gear progression by now... either way the number of guildies that are interested in joining a heroic group is going down each day, and being able to get a full guild run together is rapidly becoming a luxury. I don't see that as an entirely bad thing though, as I've said in the past that - unlike many other players - I do like pugs. I think at the moment the main thing that still scares me a little is that I haven't done all the heroic dungeons yet, and I'm terrified of having my "first time" with a bad group. Once I know what to expect I'm usually a lot more confident.

Nonetheless, I'm working on it. Initially I only ran with full guild groups; then we had some runs where we pugged one person. The players we got were all very good and we didn't have any problems with them. From there I dared to take it to runs where it was three guildies vs. two puggers. We only got one completely hopeless dps at one point, but after we kicked him it was smooth sailing again. And last night I finally braved the dungeon finder with only a single guildie of mine by my side, an elemental shaman.

We got Vortex Pinnacle, which I hadn't done on heroic before, so I was slightly nervous even though I had heard that it was definitely one of the easier heroics. Fortunately my shaman friend was an absolute star, assigning crowd control on trash and patiently explaining fight mechanics to me and the tank, who hadn't done the instance before either. The dps did their job admirably, using crowd control, interrupts and doing good damage.

The tank was kind of an interesting case. As I mentioned, he admitted that it was his first time in there, but he didn't say so up front. In fact, he charged into the first pull with no crowd control and I immediately broke into a cold sweat at the thought of what that kind of tanking was going to mean for the rest of the run. However, my shammy friend nagged him about marks, so he set some... and then didn't really follow them himself. Again he was asked about this, at which point he finally admitted that he didn't really know what he was doing, and could someone else please mark for him? No problem! I'm just glad that he fessed up.

On those pulls with the tol'vir in the anti-magic field he was advised to make a line-of-sight pull... and had apparently no idea what that meant, as he charged right in anyway. We lived through it, but I couldn't help but wonder whether the tank hadn't just outed himself as a Wrath baby, as anyone that learned the ropes before WOTLK would have known what doing a LOS pull meant. Still, aside from that our tank did very well, used his tools appropriately and generally came across as a genuinely nice fellow. We had a pretty smooth run in the end, with only two wipes on the second boss as some of us had to get used to dodging the tornadoes first. It makes me hopeful for my future pugs; I'll just have to remember to also keep an open mind and to encourage communication like my shaman friend did.

Now, normal pugs are something that I've been doing aplenty, mostly on my druid. Unfortunately they've largely been less fun than my heroics. There is less wiping, mind you, though people have become a bit more tolerant of it even in normals, but the attitudes are rarely pleasant.

Especially in the low-level instances, that is Blackrock Caverns and Throne of the Tides, you'll often run into people that behave as if they've freshly stepped out of a WOTLK heroic and haven't got a clue about what's changed this expansion. "Gogogo"-ing, pulling for the tank, you name it. This isn't helped by the fact that BRC in particular seems somewhat undertuned on normal mode so that you can completely ignore many boss mechanics, such as Corla's zealots and the crepuscular veil of Obsidius's adds.

As you go up in levels this gets a bit better and people will at least wait for the tank to pull, but crowd control is still something that nobody really bothers with. On some pulls it really doesn't matter; on others it means that the healer has to do overtime and then hope that the tank is willing to wait for mana before charging into the next group.

Boss mechanics, interestingly enough, are something I've had few problems with on normal. Occasionally someone will mess up because they didn't know what to do and didn't ask for an explanation either, but even if that leads to a wipe it's usually not a problem to do it right next time. Sometimes the one who messed up will rage-quit because clearly the rest of the group sucks and wiped him, but then you'll only have an even easier time with his replacment, so you still win. Today in Grim Batol I had a warrior who seemed to consider it hilarious to intentionally do the wrong thing on bosses (such as charging Drahga's elemental add to make it explode or running all over the place during Erudax' shadow gale) and we still made it through.

The thing that has really been bugging me in my normal runs however is the incredible loot greed. For example I was healing a normal Stonecore run where the party repeatedly commented favourably on how I had managed to heal through some very sticky situations when we got multiple trash groups at once - and then when Azil dropped her healing trinket, the mage took it and left. /sigh. Why are classes with no healing spells even allowed to roll on trinkets with a healing proc?

Today in Grim Batol, a similar scene. Drahga drops his spirit cloak and the warlock wins the roll over me. I call him out on it and he says that it was better than "the crap cloak" he had - he was wearing the same cloak as me actually, another drop with spirit on it. Maybe he should try rolling on dps gear for a change? In a funny twist of fate, I then won the caster trinket off the last boss which works for both damage dealers and healers, and suddenly the lock offered to trade me the cloak for the trinket. So let me get this straight, you roll on a healer cloak - which you shouldn't have done in the first place - and then graciously offer to trade it to me in exchange for an item that you want as well? How about NO? Is this some sick new kind of loot whoring strategy, needing on everything you can in hopes of being able to use it as a bargaining chip against your competition later on? "Oh hey, I'll trade you that item I ninjaed from you earlier if you give me this drop now..." What will they come up with next?

Likewise I was tanking a normal BRC run today, when I saw a mage roll against the healer on a spirit ring, the healer won, and then the mage got all pouty because the healer had already won some other healing loot earlier as well. Yes, because if someone gets lucky with drops for their class/role, you obviously should try to take some of their loot away just to spite them. What.

I miss the times when people were able to be genuinely happy for someone else getting a great item for their class and spec instead of greedily trying to grab everything that the system will let them roll on just because it has a single useful stat for them on it.

What have other people's pugging experiences been like?


Over before it even began

Last April I wrote a post with the title "Can crowd control really make a comeback?" in which I basically argued that I didn't think this was possible, considering many of the changes that Blizzard had made to class mechanics since BC. I promptly forgot about this again when reports from the Cataclysm beta all agreed that yes, crowd control would absolutely be necessary in the new heroics, but on the whole I felt that this was not a bad thing to be wrong about anyway.

However, now that I'm actually playing Cataclysm myself, I'm afraid that I might not have been wrong after all.

I ran my first heroic about ten days ago, with a guild group. We got heroic Grim Batol and those who had attempted it before groaned in unison the moment the loading screen came up (we had queued for a random). We wiped quite a few times and some people suggested that we should just requeue for something else, but I excitedly pushed for us to continue. In the end we didn't complete the instance as we were always just a smidgeon off the dps check on the last boss and it was late.

Still, I had a blast. I had only just passed the built-in gear check for heroics and ran oom on every boss, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We wiped on trash as people struggled to co-ordinate their crowd control and it didn't faze me. I was so happy that hard heroics as I knew them were back, and I realised that it wasn't just because of the challenge itself - I liked that the difficulty paced the run, giving you time to look around, to take in the scenery and the mobs, and to simply chat with the rest of the party. The fun thing about crowd control is that it really requires people to trust each other and to work together. (You wait until I initiate the CC-pull, but then I rely on you to pick up the mobs that are coming for me now.) Wrath heroics didn't exactly require no tanking, no healing or no dps to get through, but generally everyone was a lot less reliant on the rest of the group. Losing one or more party members for some reason was largely meaningless, as dps was totally replaceable and tanks could survive whole pulls without healing. That doesn't really make for enjoyable group play in my mind.

Anyway, I figured that Blizzard had been successful in their endeavour to make crowd control relevant again and that I'd get to enjoy more runs like that first heroic Grim Batol. Only a few days after that run however - I had received a couple of upgrades since then, but still only had a few heroic items - I ran heroic Shadowfang Keep with our newest tank and he just barrelled right through the place with no crowd control whatsoever. I had to drink after nearly every single trash pull and did hint that constantly having to wait for the healer was a negative side effect of not using CC - at which point the tank apologised but nonetheless continued to ignore our crowd control options for the rest of that run.

And yet... we were totally fine. We only had two wipes on the first boss while we had a pug dps in the group that did about 3k dps and hadn't even trained his interrupt ability according to his own words. Once we booted that guy it was smooth sailing from there, except for me constantly being out of mana.

That same tank also took on Beauty in heroic Blackrock Caverns with all three of her pups even though we had enough CC in the party to take two of them out of the fight. As an added "bonus" one of our dpsers disconnected shortly after the pull so we lost more than a quarter of our damage output. I still don't quite know how I managed to heal through that fight with no deaths, but I did. And while I did feel a little proud afterwards, especially as I had been told only a few days before about how this boss was utterly impossible without crowd control, I also felt kind of sad. I really didn't expect people to give up on CC three days after I had just rediscovered its joys.

Unfortunately, looking back at the old post of mine that I linked at the start, what I'm seeing here is exactly what I predicted would happen: due to the new healing system being designed around mostly using small and efficient heals, individual mobs generally don't hit very hard, so the tank can tank them all without dying before the healer can get a cast off. Some of them have disruptive AoE abilities, but with everyone's health pools being large enough to nearly rival the tank's, a party can often live even through that with only minimal healing. Aggro isn't an issue either, especially as being hit by a whole pull at once builds up vengeance stacks more quickly.

Does the healer have to use all her most expensive spells and burn through an entire mana bar for each trash pull? Yes, but it's possible, and the only reason to do it any differently would be to be nice to the healer. The tank, who is often the one leading the group, certainly has little motivation to use CC most of the time - as mentioned above, faster and higher vengeance stacks help his threat and damage output, and WOTLK generally taught tanks that damage dealers are morons and that the only way to control a pull is for the tank to have aggro on everything. Why should he entrust any mobs to some random huntard to trap? I was in a normal Vortex Pinnacle run yesterday where the tank actually yelled at one of the damage dealers for daring to mark a CC target for himself. He's the tank and he controls the pull! Yeeeahhh...

Last night my random heroic for the day ended up being Lost City of the Tol'vir. At one point we accidentally aggroed two groups - and much to my astonishment we once again lived through it, with nobody even coming close to dying. There were delighted exclamations of how we could clearly do larger pulls "WOTLK style" from all sides and I just felt my heart sink. Never mind crowd control and groups working together... if tanks and dps can go back to just AoE-spamming their way through large pulls I feel like the whole revamp of the healing system has been pretty pointless. I mean, I fully expected this kind of thing to happen eventually, maybe after the second tier of raiding, but not with the expansion less than a month old and before I'd even killed a single raid boss.


Questing: now mandatory

There's been a fair bit of discussion about the linearity of the new Cataclysm quests already, but the fact that considerably more quests than before are also mandatory for things other than their follow-ups hasn't got as much attention as far as I can tell.

Using quests as a prerequisite for other parts of the game is hardly anything new. The feature already existed in Vanilla and BC, and we called it raid attunements. I didn't really mind them much myself, because while they weren't without issues, I liked the general idea of making players work a bit for their endgame content.

WOTLK introduced a different kind of quest "attunement": phasing. To get access to the flight paths at Nesingwary's Safari, Crusader's Pinnacle and the Shadow Vault for example, you first had to complete some quests in the area or else they simply didn't exist as far as you were concerned. I didn't bother with unlocking them on most of my alts, but I didn't really mind either since those flight masters weren't exactly crucial to anything else I was doing.

Quartermasters that were hidden behind phasing were a different matter however: for example the aforementioned Shadow Vault quest line was also a requirement for getting access to the Knights of the Ebon Blade quartermaster. That's something I found rather annoying. The quest line wasn't terrible or anything, but the fact that it was a requirement for even accessing the quartermaster just ticked me off. Why make me jump through extra hoops when I already have the required reputation to buy the items? It's not as if they sold anything totally amazing either, why do I have to "attune" myself just to buy a jewelcrafting recipe or a piece of levelling gear?

The Sons of Hodir were even worse if you think about it, because their introductory quest line is much longer, and what with them being the only suppliers of WOTLK shoulder enchants for non-scribes, they were a pretty important faction if you were in any way trying to gear up seriously. Luckily for me I really liked the Sons of Hodir quest chain, so doing that one over and over again wasn't actually a problem for me. Still, the way Blizzard made the shoulder enchants bind on account eventually struck me as an acknowledgement that maybe requiring attunement quests for something as comparatively basic as a vendor wasn't such a great idea.

And yet they gave us Cataclysm. It's probably not as obvious if you're still focusing on your first character and eagerly ploughing through all the new content, but try getting an alt from eighty to eighty-five.

People have compared the new story-focused approach to questing to reading a book or watching a film, and I agree: the problem is, after doing either of those things I generally don't immediately want to read or watch the whole thing again the next day. Likewise I have no particular desire to repeat the questing experience on my alts just yet, but I figured that shouldn't be a problem as there are so many alternate ways of levelling now. Right?

So I start off gathering some experience by working on my professions on an alt, which involves mining. Hm, where can I go to mine these new ores... Vashj'ir is pretty! Except, I can't survive or move around there without having done the introductory quests. Balls. Mount Hyjal it is then. After I've exhausted Hyjal's supply of obsidium and want to move on to elementium I think about going to Deepholm... except that you can't even get to the zone until you're level eighty-two and can pick up the intro quest (assuming you don't have a higher-level warlock friend who'd be happy to summon you or something). Twilight Highlands? Not impossible but still very annoying to get to as Horde without the portal, and again it's something that you can't unlock until you're a certain level and have done a certain amount of quests. I guess that explains why there are so many ore farmers in Uldum - unless you're willing to invest time into questing to unlock all the other zones, there simply isn't anywhere else to go for elementium!

Okay, who wants to level up purely by gathering anyway? Let's do some instances. I open the dungeon finder and everything is locked because I haven't discovered the entrances on my alt yet. Fair enough. Blackrock Caverns is not a problem because you can simply fly there, or alternatively there's a shortcut from Hyjal. Throne of the Tides is a problem again though. Unless you have someone who's willing to summon you, you can forget about doing that one without having quested in Vashj'ir first. Without the Sea Legs buff you'll probably drown before you even get there.

Stonecore suffers from the same Deepholm restrictions mentioned above. Since I really wanted to do it however, I bit the bullet and let Aggra take me through her cut scene again while I tabbed out. The moment I'm down at the Temple of Earth, I fly up to discover the Stonecore entrance... and am still locked out, because the dungeon finder considers my ilevel too low. Never mind that I ran the previous instances for loot and that my old ICC gear is fully gemmed and enchanted, it's not good enough - go do those quests to replace all your gear with greens or else!

So you can waltz into a raid whenever you like now - but you can't access many quartermasters, instances and entire zones without having done the prerequisite attunement quests first. Am I really the only one who sees something wrong with this? I always thought it was worth having to put a bit of effort into unlocking a great raid instance for example, but I really don't see why all of my characters are supposed to take doomed ships to Vashj'ir just to be able to do bloody Throne of the Tides.


Pondering profession dailies

The one thing that I've spent more time on than anything else since Cataclysm release is not exploring, instancing or working on my professions, it's doing the new cooking and fishing dailies in Orgrimmar. I currently do them on five characters per day, usually before getting started on anything else.

I'm really grateful for the new fishing daily in particular. I've talked about my personal history with fishing before and how it didn't really manage to hold my interest until I started doing the Shattrath fishing daily. The problem with that was that I still had to level to seventy without having much motivation to fish, and starting the profession from scratch every time one of my alts reached the Burning Crusade level cap was impractical and tedious.

With the new daily being available as early as level ten, it's easy to get into the profession right from the start and work on it on the side as you level up. You'll still gain levels much faster than you'll gain fishing skills, but with any luck you won't be as utterly unprepared for any later fishing endeavours as you used to be. Let's not forget that just completing the daily will grant you skill-ups as well, regardless of how much fishing you had to do for the quest (if any). This is particularly valuable in the later stretches of the profession when skilling up by even one point takes quite a lot of casts.

If you're rolling an alt on a new server, doing the fishing daily at level ten can also help your financial situation, as the random reward bag has a pretty high chance of containing a Swiftness Potion, which tend to go for at least one gold if not more on most servers. For a level eighty-five that's nothing, but for a level ten who is trying to pay for his training with nothing at his disposal but a few silvers worth of quest rewards, getting a whole gold or more from a simple daily is a nice boost.

The one negative thing I see about this new fishing daily is that it won't hold the interest of anyone at the level cap once they've maxed out their fishing, because there is nothing interesting about the item rewards themselves. A gold for a Swiftness Potion is about the most you can hope for, which is absolutely not worth the time it takes to do the daily for a level eighty-five character. If you're still after a Weather-Beaten Fishing Hat or missing one of the croc pets from Crocolisks in the City, you'll have to do the fishing dailies in Shattrath and Dalaran, both of which are rather out of the way for max-level characters now. I kind of hope that Blizzard will add a new max-level fishing daily somewhere in a later content patch.

The cooking daily also suffers from the problem of trying to appeal to both levellers and max-level characters at the same time. Mind you, I never had a lot of problems levelling cooking before, but with how fast and smoothly you zoom through the low levels these days, it's probably harder because you don't get to see as many zones with vendors selling recipes and won't kill as many random mobs for useful meat drops. There have also always been certain level ranges where it's harder to skill up than in others (250-300 for me, mostly). Either way, getting extra skill-ups from doing the daily helps.

However, the Chef's Awards for completing the daily are decidedly "meh" for low-level characters, as all the recipes that you can buy with them require a cooking skill of at least 450. While cooking skill isn't restricted by character level anymore, it's unlikely that you'll be far ahead of the "intended" skill range on your average alt, especially with the aforementioned factors making levelling cooking something that might not happen as easily on its own anymore. You can't save up awards for later either as they are capped out at the very low number of ten. You can buy the recipes early and build a stockpile in your bank for later, but that's not really ideal either. Your only alternative way to spend them is the Crate of Tasty Meat, either to stockpile meat instead of recipes, or to sell the contents for gold.

I don't want to scoff at that because it's certainly got its uses... but I just find it odd that the quest itself is very obviously designed for low-levels (as you won't face anything worse than a level 11 thief) but the rewards are very much aimed at high levels. As a result, putting their Chef's Awards to good use is a clunky process for lowbies, while characters at max level get encouraged to repeat a completely trivial level ten quest over and over for weeks in order to gather all the new cooking recipes. It just doesn't sit quite right with me.

In summary, I enjoy both of the new profession dailies and I think that they are fun as well as a great help when it comes to skilling up your secondary professions. However, I also think that trying to aim them at low-levels and characters at the level cap at the same time wasn't really the best idea ever and I would have preferred it if they had introduced separate dailies for different level ranges. Maybe in the next big patch.